An energetic fist pump was my reaction to my diagnosis of menopause. Judging from the doctor’s bemused expression this is a less than common reaction. To me, it was a blessing. A relief from months of worrying that the brain fog I had was Alzheimer’s; the aching joints were a sign of bone cancer; the mood swings were potentially bipolar and the hot flushes were an indication of serious infection. It was just the menopause – something that every single woman will go through at some point.
My joy was short-lived as I started to look for more information on the topic. It was all so utterly depressing. The forums, the articles, the books all seemed to imply that you may as well give up on living and start simply enduring your way through years of hell. Menopause is not a joking matter apparently, the perception being that the time for laughs was over.
But then I went to a menopause support event at a local yoga centre. And we all began telling our stories. We all fell about laughing as one woman told us of a brain fog moment when she had been getting increasingly frustrated punching her PIN number into the microwave and wondering why it wouldn’t work. Another recollected turning up at a party with a pair or tweezers stuck to her crotch. She had been plucking those annoying bristles that appear your chin at this age while in the car – and when she dropped the tweezers they had attached themselves to the magnet she wears on her pants to alleviate her worst symptoms. I felt I had met my tribe. We quickly established a Whatsapp group and used it to share our ridiculous stories.
Laughing til the tears ran down my legs really helped me deal with this stage in my life. So I decided to blog about it – but highlighting the ridiculousness of it all rather than the maudlin aspect so many others chose to focus on. The name of the blog came from a quote from Dr Robert Wilson, a New York gynaecologist, who declared menopausal women to be ‘galloping catastrophes’ – it was meant in a derogatory way but I liked it so reclaimed it. I couldn’t believe it when it hit a thousand followers. It now exceeds 33K followers – all sharing their stories and helping others realise that they are not alone. What surprised me more is the number of husbands/partners/children who all read it together and laugh then talk about the issues together.
The followers (the Catastrophes) talk about everything. Our newly found superpower – that of invisibility. The realisation of just how youth obsessed the world is can be a shock – but realising that no-one is really looking at you or bothering with you that much can give tremendous freedom. One catastrophe talked of two men pushing past her on the lift unaware of her existence. They hit floor 19 as she hit floor 2. She took great satisfaction in hitting every single floor number between 2 and 19 before she exited. We debate the possibility of now becoming Master Menopausal Criminals now no-one can see us. Or at the very least be able to steal one of those lovely silk scarves from Harvey Nicks.
We laugh at the irony of it all. Just as you no longer need to worry about contraception you suddenly go off sex. Lying on top of the bed naked with the windows open isn’t an invitation for passion to your partner. Indeed it is more likely a request for some ice cream, a box set on Netflix and ideally for your partner to head to the spare room and give you peace. In Edinburgh, the ultimate irony is the menopause clinic being housed behind the sexual health clinic.
Just as your eyebrows get sparser and the hair on your head thinner – hair starts to pop up on your chin. And as a double blow your eyesight is starting to go making it harder to see and eliminate them without the use of a x50 magnifying mirror. Previous generations had some cruel and unusual treatments for the menopause including attaching leeches to the genitalia to encourage blood letting. And a cliterdectomy was also considered an effective treatment (and yes that is exactly what it sounds like). It was something to be kept hidden and ashamed of. When menopause was first mentioned on radio in 1948, there was a massive outcry with ‘acutely embarrassing’ and ‘lowering of broadcasting standards’ two of the many complaints.
The topic is no longer taboo – it features heavily in all forms of media. Celebrities no longer feel it something they need to hide and their openness makes it easier for others. Andrea McLean was my first guest on the blog and she was so wonderful and supportive. That gave me the confidence to start writing articles for online magazines as well as continuing the blog. And finally I decided to follow a dream I had always had to write a book. Galloping Catastrophe: Musings of a Menopausal Woman was published in May this year.
I thought more about what I wanted from my life and developed my own f*** it list. A bit like a bucket list, it is all the things I put off when younger as I was so afraid to fail.
I’d strongly recommend it as a powerful way to make the third act of your life count. Stand-up comedy was on my list. I had always wanted to try this but it was terrifying. The perfect opportunity came with an invite to do a session in Wales at a Wellness Retreat. So I thought nothing to lose – I don’t know anyone in Wales. If it doesn’t work then I will run off the stage and get the next train back and no one will ever know. But I loved it. I totally embraced it and am now starting to look at doing more nearer to home. I then got asked to come to a podcast on the menopause with Meg Mathews and then to a party with Andrea McLean to celebrate the birthday of her website ‘this girl is on fire’. On a smaller scale I’ve headed up Calton Hill as the sun sets with a can of Jack Daniels and Caledonia on the ipod. I’ve gone up Arthur’s Seat to watch the sunset (well half way up – menopausal exhaustion kicked in). I traded in my sensible car for a purple sports car and I love it – even if it is occasionally referred to by friends as my clit extension – or my mid life crisis car. I am designing a tattoo for my belly. My friend laughed and said ‘what will it look like when you are 80?’. ‘Don’t care’ was my response – indeed ‘don’t care’ is becoming my favoured response to most criticism. I am loving this new direction in my life – the freedom of simply doing what you want free of the shackles of convention and the fear of what others think.
So maybe humour is the best therapy we can have while experiencing menopausal symptoms. This stage in our lives can be a bit crap but it’s a privilege that is denied to many. Friends we have lost over the years would no doubt tell us to get going and make the most of every minute as we approach the next chapter in our weird and wonderful lives. It is never too late and you are never too old to dance to the beat of your own drum.
Galloping Catastrophe: Musings of a Menopausal Woman by Jennifer Kennedy is out now on Amazon, £7.99; for Jennifer’s blog see https://my-menopause.com/